border wall Nogales Border Wall and Constantinia Wire | Photo courtesy of U.S. Customs and Border Patrol
Layers of Constantinia are added to existing barrier infrastructure along the U.S. - Mexico border near Nogales, AZ, on February 4, 2019. Photo: Robert Bushell

With little vocal opposition, Arizona Republican lawmakers now have one more tool in the building of Trump’s border wall.

Helping the Trump administration get one step closer to its goal of building a wall along the U.S. – Mexico border is a priority for Arizona House Majority Leader Warren Peterson, R-Gilbert. If he has it his way, private landowners will have an easier time opting in to help with the process.

Peterson’s HB 2084 bill could achieve that goal by prohibiting cities and towns from establishing permit requirements in order to build a border wall on private land. Advocates like former Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo said local municipalities will use the permitting process as a political tool to block the border wall. Tancredo now works as an advisor for the private wall advocacy group We Build the Wall.

Tancredo told a House panel reviewing Peterson’s Bill Wednesday that the group’s project in Sunland Park, New Mexico, took longer to permit than to build. He claimed that local officials admitted to him they would have used the permitting process to stop the wall.

The El Paso Times reported in June 2019 that town officials in Sunland Park received death threats and online harassment after they halted the private wall construction to go through its permitting process. The article attributes this to prodding from We Build the Wall founder, Brian Kolfage.

Kolfage, an Iraq War veteran and University of Arizona alumnus, started We Build the Wall as a GoFundMe campaign to crowdfund private border wall construction. Last August, the nonprofit came under scrutiny from Florida officials over the way it handled those funds.

Peterson, a fan of Kolfage’s group, announced his intention to pass HB 2084 in a June 2019 tweet that specifically highlighted their efforts.

“Their organization is making a real difference with the border crisis! All with private donations!” he tweeted.

In addition to Tancredo, the committee heard testimony from National Council of Border Patrol President Arturo Del Cueto, who spoke to the experiences of his officers on the border. He said walls act as a deterrent that enables Border Patrol to concentrate their forces and improve enforcement.

Noticeably absent Wednesday was testimony from bill opponents, causing Rep. Gail Griffin, R-Hereford, to observe “a lot signed up, but are not willing to speak.”

Prior to passing the HB 2084 on to a party line vote, the committee debated the bill’s overall impact.

Here is what they discussed.

Drug Trafficking

Committee Republicans argued a wall would stem the flow of drug and human trafficking. Del Cueto cited CBP statistics that show a large portion of drug traffic comes through Arizona’s southern border.

House Minority Whip Rep. Reginald Bolding, D-Laveen Village, was skeptical the bill would make a meaningful impact on those numbers.

“I was not able to hear that we would see a significant decrease,” he said.

Rep. Alma Hernandez, D-Tucson, challenged Del Cueto on some of his crime statistics, citing the lived experiences of her family in Nogales, which was recently identified as one of the safest cities to live in Arizona. She asked if Del Cueto has reached out to the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office.

Del Cueto said, in his capacity as President of the National Border Patrol Council, he couldn’t speak to interagency communications. He did, however, add that Sheriff Tony Estrada has never reached out to his organization.

Local Control

Bolding argued that the legislature “should not get into the business of preempting local control.” This is where the state legislature prevents local governments from creating certain laws or regulations.

Hereford pushed back saying the bill protects private landowners from being preempted by local government policies.

“We’re talking about private property, private money,” Griffin said. She argued the bill does not compel private property owners to build the wall. Rather, it enables them to do so if they choose.

Moving Forward

The bill will now move on to the House Rules Committee before a full floor vote.

After the committee vote, Peterson tweeted his thanks to the Republican members of the committee who voted in favor of the bill.

“All voted to make it easier to build the wall in AZ by orgs run by patriots like @BrianKolfage,” he said.